Design guru Glynn Kerr recounts his recent experience of acting as a judge at one of California’s popular classic motorcycle show
IF YOU’RE A PETROL-HEAD, one of the great things about California is that there’s a local bike or car show organised virtually every weekend over summer, and usually several during the week too. Add to that the slow rate of corrosion that occurs due to the relatively low humidity levels, and you have a high number of old vehicles to be found in running or easily restorable condition. Sun-bleached plastics and typically high mileages are a down-side, although long, straight roads mean reduced stress on the moving parts. So those miles don’t count in quite the same way as a vehicle that’s spent its life in the Swiss Alps or central London. Lots of old, running vehicles means lots of interest, which, in turn, results in an abundance of shows.
The annual classic motorcycle show held by A&S Powersports in Roseville has a strong following of local devotees. It’s not on a par with the Quail by any means, but it’s not trying to be. And that’s exactly how everyone likes it. You’re unlikely to stumble across a concours-condition Brough Superior or Rollie Free’s record-breaking Vincent at the A&S event. You will, however, see an eclectic selection of older bikes, many of them ridden regularly, and as devoted a group of owners as you’ll find anywhere. The informality helps bind the diversity of interests, as does the random layout of the display. A few clumps of similar brands or nationalities suggest an early attempt at order, or owners just naturally magnetised to their own kind. But at some point, this usually breaks down into anarchy, and new arrivals are vaguely instructed to park “wherever you can find a slot”. It’s a gathering, not a museum, after all.
In past years, I’ve brought along one of my own bikes to display. This year, though, I was asked to judge the entrants, which immediately gave the whole thing a different slant. At first, I didn’t consider myself adequately qualified. There are blokes who can spot a reproduction foot-peg rubber at 100
yards. I am not one of them; although after decades of ownership, I can probably tell a real Guzzi or Ducati part from a fake under close scrutiny. That limited knowledge would have qualified me to judge precisely two out of all the bikes at yesterday’s gathering, which hardly makes me an oracle of wisdom. But after assurances that it was more about personal taste and gut instinct than extensive expertise, I capitulated. So yesterday I set off, clipboard in hand, to make a few people’s day. And offend everyone else.
After reviewing a dozen or so bikes, I noticed that my score range was between eight and nine out of 10. That revealed both the high quality of the bikes on display, and the reality that I would have to get far more critical to avoid a dead heat among almost the entire amassed group. But how do you compare a perfect multi-year restoration with a mostly original time capsule? Each has its merits. Maybe, more categories would help, although from my experience of running the Motorcycle Design Awards over the years, that can create as many problems as it solves. Fortunately, my task this time was simply to decide, not to organise, although that didn’t help the dilemma. And with only 90 minutes to survey the field and reach a decision, there wasn’t time to dwell on the situation. Did the bike stop me in my tracks? Yes? Okay, five points. Was it original, well, restored, or tastefully/ imaginatively modified? Okay, another two points. Was it a model of significance? A further two points. Did I have a problem dragging myself away from it? The final deciding point.
The fact that no entry scored the full 10/10 was simply down to the logic that one should always reserve that for a level of faultless perfection that’s unlikely to ever materialise (in college, it gives students, even the best ones, something to strive for). Here, it allowed a margin of error, just in case someone actually did wheel Rolland Free’s Vincent into the arena two minutes before the judging was due to close. As it was, the highest scores won their categories, with a second visit to review the best deserving in the case of any matching scores. No coins were flipped, although heads were duly scratched, and pencils nibbled, during that second process.
Starting, appropriately, with the American section, John Adair’s interesting 1942 H-D Flat Head, and Ingo Pfeiffer’s ’97 faultless Street Tracker lost out by a hair to Rick Gautier’s XLCR. Only 4,000 examples of Willie G Davidson’s failed attempt at a café racer were built, so the rarity, increasing desirability, and immaculate condition of this early 1977 example together got it Best in Class. Today, nobody cares that it couldn’t compete with its Japanese and European contemporaries in either performance or handling in its day. Such is nostalgia, and the different expectations we have. Now it’s a classic — enough said.
The British section was the most prolific, and, in turn, the most difficult to judge. Out of four Norton Commandos, two hit the 9/10 mark, while Richard Hardmeyer’s ’49 Triumph PR5 matched them out of age, condition and sheer charm. While Dan Perry’s gorgeous silver 850 Commando was acknowledged as the bike I would most like to take home, Chuck Talley’s 750 won the award overall. The Triumph didn’t go home without a medal, though — that one won Best of Show. Could a bike logically win Best of Show when it hadn’t won its own category? I left that paradox for others to figure out.
This year saw a couple of additions to the classic show, with Café Racer and Custom categories bringing newer, modified bikes into the arena. Turnout was somewhat under-whelming, but, hopefully, the word will get out, and entries will multiply over the coming years. Fernando Cruz won the former, with his modified Yamaha XS750, while
Dean Court’s homespun bicycle-based Indian board-tracker replica perfectly captured the spirit of those earlier machines. After the show, it was yours for $2,000 (Rs 1.33 lakh) or best offer.
BMWs had a monopoly on the German group, with three different contenders all tying for top place. But when I returned for the second round of judging, two of them had already disappeared, which resolved the whole issue. Jim Lowery’s lovely 1955 R25/3 would probably have won it in any case.
Early Japanese models have a growing following, and there was a good turnout to support it. Chalmer DeChecco brought along his stunning 1961 CB92, which drew in the points league with Michael Lee’s 1970 Yamaha DS6B. It was a hard call, but the Yamaha won by a hair on originality (believe it or not, this is an unrestored example) and novelty. Hondas on display ranged from a Z50 Monkey Bike to a six-cylinder CBX from 1979. Chalmer did win the Italian section, though, with his 1956 Gilera 150.
The ‘Other’ category (I guess it could have been the ‘None of the Above’ group) had just one contender, which seemed to me like a rigged election. I was tempted to abstain just out of spite, but Blair Beck’s Penton 125 Six Days was faultless and impressive, so it was a deserved victory.
And, finally, there was the scooter section. Bruce Cutting’s 1957 Cushman Eagle was unashamedly original, which was duly appreciated, but Kent Perryman’s restored Vespa stole everyone’s heart. The paint wasn’t true to Vespa, but it suited the little wasp perfectly, and the decision in this category was a no-brainer.
After the official handing out of the awards, it was time to go off in search of a cold beer. The summer heat, along with a fine haze, care of the wildfires burning further south, had been oppressive — further aspects of the California lifestyle that has to be balanced with all the good bits. Only one owner demanded to know my reasoning for why his bike hadn’t won, and that was more out of wanting to improve his chances for future shows rather than seeking any form of vengeance. It was a good crowd, and a worthwhile reminder of why we do this crazy thing called motorcycling.
Dean Court with his hand-made, Indian-themed device — head to head with one of Indian’s more recent offerings
Richard Hardmeyer won Best of Show with his 1949 Triumph PR5
Alone in his class, Blair Beck deserved to win anyway with his immaculate Penton Six Days
Rick Gautier with his winning 1977 XLCR Café Racer
BMWs turned out in force for the German contingent
The annual A&S show is a family event
Interesting FT500-based flat-tracker, finally demonstrating what the ‘FT’ was supposed to stand for
Chalmer DeChecco’s delightful 1961 Honda CB92 125-cc twin
Ducati staged a major XDiavel test-ride during the morning
Rick Gautier’s winning 1977 XLCR Café Racer
When did you ever see a cast silencer?
You’d be hard pressed to find a more eclectic mix of bikes
Scrutinising is a serious affair
Michael Lee was very happy to win the Japanese category with his unrestored Yamaha DS6B
Fernando Cruz with his interesting take on a 1978 Yamaha XS750
Another bike I could have happily taken home, 1956 Gilera 150, with proud owner Chalmer DeChecco
Chuck Talley won the British group with his tastefully modified 750 Commando
Jim Lowery with his tidy 1955 BMW R25/3
More charm than Maurice Chevalier — lovely restored 1963 Vespa. Kent Perryman (l) and his Vespa